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What got me steamed up this week

Americans Don’t Care About Democracy? Well, Democrats—Make Them Care

What Biden needs to tell American voters today—and every day until the election

Rebecca Noble/Getty Images
Biden speaking at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Arizona on September 28

President Biden will give what they’re billing as the first speech of his reelection campaign today, and in it, he will attack Donald Trump by name as a historic threat to democracy. An aide told The Washington Post that Biden “is going to be very straightforward on what happened, the truth of what happened, and the role that Trump played in that.”

The speech will arrive, as we approach the third anniversary of the insurrection, in about as bleak a context as we could imagine. Trump leads Biden in most head-to-head polls, albeit just by a point or two. And Republicans are apparently rallying to Trump. A Post poll released earlier this week had some gob-smacking findings showing that Republicans are far less concerned about January 6 than they were right after it happened, and they weren’t very bothered then.

We’re in a surreal hall of mirrors. Trump keeps suffering legal defeat after legal defeat. He’s being tossed off state ballots. His lawyer all but admits he led an insurrection. A new House report details nearly $8 million he made from foreign governments while serving as president. And for now, none of it matters.

This campaign will be about a lot of things, as all campaigns are. But the main question will come down to this and this alone: Will a majority or plurality of Americans use their vote—that is, employ the peaceful means of democracy’s most essential right—to put a violent fascist back in charge of this country?

That the answer isn’t a clear “no” is terrifying. But here’s the thing. Some would argue that the fact that the answer isn’t a clear “no” means that Biden and Democrats shouldn’t emphasize the issue because it’s not a clear winner. I say the opposite is the case. Emphasize the issue and make it a winner. If polls today show that not enough people care about democracy, don’t just follow the polls. Change the polls. Make them care.

Republicans understand this dynamic and have for years. The classic recent example is the Iraq War. After the 9/11 attacks, no one outside a handful of neoconservatives thought they justified waging war on Iraq. But over the course of 2002, the Bush White House changed public opinion. They did it largely through lies, but they did it. By the time the United States invaded Iraq, majorities supported it.

Trump has changed polls too. Pre-Trump Republicans believed a lot of bad things, and I’m certainly not sugar-coating that GOP—which, after all, laid down and gave itself over to Trump. But they did still believe in the general integrity of the American electoral system. No one was urging Mitt Romney to dispute the 2012 election results. Romney conceded on election night (or very early Wednesday morning, technically), and everyone moved on. But by 2016, Trump was saying that he would respect the results “if I win.” And that was all it took. The polls, at least among Republicans, changed and changed dramatically.

Democrats historically don’t do this. When the polls are on their side—as when, for example, George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005—they’re as swashbuckling as Blackbeard. (That was one case where the GOP/right-wing media onslaught failed conspicuously to change the polls.) But when the polls aren’t on their side, they’re about as swashbuckling as Caspar Milquetoast.

If they want to make this democracy argument—and I think they’re right to do so—and if they want to win it—and they must—this habit has to change. They need to be mapping out a plan now that stage by stage will lay out an argument to voters (swing voters especially) that by Election Day will have them terrified at the prospect of Trump getting back into the White House. This can, and must, start with January 6. But then, by late spring say, and especially by the fall, the argument should be almost entirely about the future. Attack ad after attack ad simply need to take Trump’s own words, and the words of his people in leaks to media outlets, about how they’re going to impose authoritarianism in his second term. I would anticipate too that, by the fall, Trump will have said as much many times on the hustings, handing the Democrats fresh and irrefutable fodder.

Obviously there are other things the Democrats need to do. They are positioned to win millions of votes on the question of abortion rights. They have to press an economic argument the best they can, and as I wrote Monday, if some economic predictions are right, that could be less of a challenge than it seems like it will be today.

But there is a deep moral and ethical question at the center of this election unlike any other of my lifetime. Will Americans use the tools of democracy to hand their country to a democracy destroyer? They won’t if Democrats refuse to accept the “people don’t care about democracy” argument and make them care.

“Just Like the Ones I Used to Know...”

A Fighting Words quiz on several centuries’ worth of Christmas music.

GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

1. According to Billboard, this is the oldest English-language Christmas carol, dating back to the 1650s:

A. “Silent Night”

B. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”

C. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”

D. “The Holly and the Ivy”

Answer: C, “God Rest Ye Merry.” Read this article. I really like that song. And notice that no, it’s not “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.” One of the most important commas in all of commadom.

2. There is a theory these days holding that “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was written with secret political intent, as a rallying crying for what cause?

A. The Stuart Restoration of 1660

B. The attempted Stuart retaking of the throne in 1745 under “Bonnie Prince Charlie”

C. The consolidation of the Austrian Empire in 1804

D. Napoleon’s return from exile in Elba in 1815

Answer: B, the Bonnie Prince Charlie episode. So says Bennett Zon, the head of the Music Department at Durham University. What, you know better?

3. According to a 2015 tally by FiveThirtyEight, what is the most covered Christmas song of all time?

A. “Silent Night”

B. “White Christmas”

C. “Jingle Bells”

D. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Answer: A, “Silent Night.” Followed by “White Christmas,” second, and “Jingle Bells,” third. “Have Yourself” was seventh.

4. According to a 2021 YouGov poll, what do Americans think is the worst Christmas song of all time?

A. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

B. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”

C. “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”

D. “Santa Baby”

Answer: D, “Santa Baby.” It nosed out “Grandma” by one percentage point, so, within the margin of error. Still, it was liked overall by 68 percent–32 percent. Great trivia here: It was co-written by Phil Springer, who, first of all, is still alive (!) and second of all went on to write songs with Utah GOP Senator Orrin Hatch, who was something of a tunesmith. And there’s more politics to this: The co-composer was Joan Javits, the niece (I think) of longtime liberal Republican New York Senator Jacob Javits. And I don’t see what’s so bad about it. It’s a fine song.

5. And according to a 2021 ranking by, what is the best country Christmas song of all time?

A. “Jingle Bell Rock,” by Bobby Helms

B. “Blue Christmas,” by Elvis Presley

C. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by Brenda Lee

D. “Christmases When You Were Mine,” by Taylor Swift

Answer: C, “Rockin’ Around.” Great song, great guitar, pretty cool sax solo. Brenda Lee was 13 when she record this!

6. Which of these artists has never recorded a Christmas song?

A. Snoop Dogg

B. They Might Be Giants

C. Bee Gees

D. Foo Fighters

Answer: Surprisingly, C, Bee Gees. Look it up! Snoop appears to have done a number of holiday tunes. They Might Be Giants made a Christmas E.P. with five songs, and Foo Fighters recorded Chuck Berry’s classic “Run Rudolph Run,” also covered by Keith Richards and Dave Edmunds.

The Real Problem With Those College Presidents? Gross Incompetence.

Yes, Elise Stefanik set a trap. But the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT didn’t have to walk right into it.

Harvard President Claudine Gay (L) and Penn President Liz Magill
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Harvard President Claudine Gay (left) and Penn President Liz Magill testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday.

Almost everyone has been piling on that pitiful troika of elite university presidents after their congressional testimony on Tuesday. A few other folks, people I know and respect like Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times and Jay Michaelson of The Daily Beast, have added some valuable nuance, arguing that in context, the position the presidents were defending actually had merit.

I agree with the main points both made in their columns—in effect, that Republican Representative Elise Stefanik’s disingenuous grilling of the presidents, which conflated free speech with targeted harassment, set a trap that forced them to appear to equivocate about antisemitism. But I want to make a different point, one that is sharply critical of the presidents on different grounds. I was personally offended by their gross incompetence, and it wouldn’t bother me in the least if they were all fired simply for that reason (if any of them are forced out, of course, it won’t be because of that).

Here’s what I mean. As the president of Harvard, Penn, or MIT, you are by definition one of America’s leading representatives of the liberal values of inquiry, critical thinking, science, anti-superstition, and, yes, free speech. On your home turf, you are confronted from time to time, or maybe more frequently than that, with situations in which some of these values come into conflict with each other, and you have to make a difficult decision. The national media, especially the right-wing media, is monitoring every move you make, every syllable you utter.

You exist, that is, at the center of an ideological tornado. You know this, or should. And you show up to Capitol Hill so unspeakably ill prepared that you—and your coterie of almost-certainly overpaid handlers—haven’t prepped for exactly the line of questioning that Stefanik pressed upon you? Indefensible.

A memorable moment in a 1988 presidential debate helps explain the key error the trio made. CNN anchor Bernard Shaw opened the proceedings by asking Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis about his opposition to the death penalty. “If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered,” Shaw asked, “would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Dukakis restated his opposition to the death penalty with all the ardor of someone reading the phone book (what’s a phone book, you ask? This). The next day, some commentators criticized Shaw for being a little blunt, but mostly people laid into Dukakis for not saying something like: “First of all, Bernie, how dare you talk that way, even hypothetically, about my wife? You should be ashamed. And second of all, if I got my hands on the guy, they wouldn’t need the death penalty.”

Cheap? Theatrical? Sure. But it isn’t insane for people to want to see leaders show a little emotion about emotional things.

These presidents made the Dukakis error. They showed no emotion about one of the most emotional topics in the history of the human race, antisemitism. Harvard’s Claudine Gay said the right words, twice; she said hateful antisemitic speech was “personally abhorrent to me.” But she spoke with all the passion of someone giving a passerby directions to Widener Library.

What she and the others needed to do was show a little passion. Passion would communicate that this actually matters to them in a deep way. And they could still make the point they went on to make. It isn’t complicated. They could have said: “Congresswoman, antisemitism repulses me. When I hear someone say ‘gas the Jews,’ or when I watched those people march with those Nazi-like torches in Charlottesville in 2017, I shake with rage. I will never tolerate that on my campus. And yet, Congresswoman, universities must foster debate and allow free speech, even offensive, disgusting speech. Maybe you don’t understand this. I notice that your civil liberties and free speech vote ratings are nothing to write home about.” Boom: from defense to offense.

I know a lot of liberals will scoff at this point, but it’s quite serious. For better or worse we live in an age of theater, and right-wingers are just really good at theater. We must deal with reality as it is. Countless Americans, likely the majority, are getting their news in sound bites that elide context and nuance—on Fox News, yes, but also in 15-second videos on social media. How do we think that testimony has been playing on TikTok over the last three days?

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it all the same, that I obviously hold no brief for Stefanik. She’s a conscienceless fascist who was once a fairly reasonable conservative but took a sip from the poisoned MAGA chalice in 2016, and her career has been one long brownshirt rally ever since.

But the awfulness of her public persona just reinforces my main point. We are at war in this country. On the one side are the values embodied by Stefanik and Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and the soulless evangelical leaders who know exactly who Trump is but have elevated him to savior status because he wants to eradicate “vermin” like you and me. On the other side are the values represented, however imperfectly, by (among other institutions) our universities, great and not so great.

And if you’re on the liberal side, and you decide to waltz into the lion’s den, you had damn well better be ready. You are charged with defending a way of thinking and living that is under ceaseless attack, and you have a responsibility to represent that way of thinking and living for the rest of us who believe in it but don’t have the opportunity to appear before Congress. These presidents let half a country down, and for that, they should be ashamed.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Here’s How a Joe Manchin Candidacy Helps Biden

It’s not a crazy notion. Just look at the polling data.

Biden gives Senator Joe Manchin the pen he used to sign the Inflation Reduction Act
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Biden gives Senator Joe Manchin the pen he used to sign the Inflation Reduction Act on August 16, 2022.

Everybody is in a tizzy about Joe Manchin’s retirement announcement. And maybe they should be. The conventional wisdom for months, or even for a couple years, has been that a presidential candidacy by the West Virginia senator under the “centrist” No Labels banner would mean the end for Joe Biden, and that’s the take in most of the insta-analyses I’ve read over the last 24 hours.

It’s also what I’ve always thought, and it stands to reason. Not because Manchin is a Democrat. But because it has been assumed that he splits the anti-Trump vote. But lately, even before this announcement, I’ve begun to wonder: What if Manchin is more likely to split the anti-Biden vote? In a moment, I’ll get to that case.

But first, let’s address the ramifications of Manchin’s announcement for control of the Senate. This, not the presidential implications, was what the media focused on first—that his decision imperils Democratic control of the Senate.

That’s a kind of base-covering or box-checking journalism that I suppose mainstream outlets feel they have a need to do, but it’s silly. Manchin had zero chance of holding his seat against GOP Governor Jim Justice. Not 10 percent. Not 5 percent. Zero. Justice has been consistently ahead by double digits in recent polls. One outlier poll—conducted, interestingly, for a GOP super PAC—had it at 6; but the most recent public polls pegged Justice’s lead at 12, 13, 22, and 14 percent.

The Democratic Party is all but dead in West Virginia. I say this with sadness, as a native of the state who remembers a day when everyone, from every member of Congress on down to the agriculture commissioner (Gus Douglass!), was a Democrat. The place was never a liberal nirvana, but there were a number of progressives in office, notably Ken Hechler, one of those longtime members of Congress, who’d been a Truman speechwriter and was the only member of the House to march with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery.

Today? Three of the 34 state senators are Democrats. Three! They could hold their caucus meetings in a closet. And only 10 of the 98 state delegates are Dems (there are two vacancies). The three state senators are from the university towns of Morgantown and Huntington. Everywhere else, the party barely exists.

So that Manchin’s seat was lost was already a foregone conclusion, and anyone who argued otherwise was wasting time.

Now let’s get to a possible Manchin presidential candidacy. First of all, I don’t think it’s certain that he’ll run. I’d call it likely but not preordained. No Labels officials have said repeatedly that they don’t want to help reelect Trump. There is of course no reason to take those avowals at face value. But they can be leveraged by an effective Democratic opposition into pressure to force No Labels to stand down if polling shows consistently that it’d be doing exactly that. So I think there is still a chance that No Labels doesn’t field a candidate, or can’t get anyone of Manchin’s stature to agree to accept its nod, and ends up with a Howard Schultz–level figure.

Second, even if Manchin does run, it is no longer manifestly obvious that he hurts Biden more than he hurts Trump. Here’s the case, which rests on three points.

One: Manchin is basically against abortion rights. His ratings record from the pro-life groups is mixed, but that’s because he has a history of voting for larger Democratic bills that contain some language about abortion that those groups don’t like. And he did criticize the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. But on stand-alone abortion bills, he’s been consistently against choice.

The 2024 election is going to be as direct a nationwide referendum on women’s reproductive rights as we’ve ever had in this country. And as we’ve been seeing since last year and saw again Tuesday, masses of voters are heading to the polls to say they want the government to do something to preserve abortion rights. Manchin’s going to be asked about this constantly if he runs. He’ll bob and weave, but if the Democrats do a good job of letting people know about the anti-choice aspects of his record—for example, he was the only Senate Democrat to join 50 Republicans in opposing a 2022 bill that sought to codify Roe v. Wade—very few pro-choice Americans will vote for him. And that category includes not just Democrats but a majority of independents and even some Republicans.

Two: He’s just not that popular. And to the extent that he is popular, he is more popular among Republicans than Democrats.

In a recent PRRI poll, Manchin was viewed favorably by 12 percent, while 41 percent viewed him unfavorably. This man who gets so much positive Beltway press was viewed very favorably by 1 percent. This by the way was Americans, not West Virginians. And there’s a recent Morning Consult poll that ranked the popularity of every senator (these were statewide polls). It found Manchin to be one of the most unpopular senators in the country. Now that’s largely because he’s a Democrat in a Republican state. There are only seven senators who are underwater in the poll, and Manchin is one of them (the only senators deeper underwater are Susan Collins, Ron Johnson, and Mitch McConnell, who is down there in Mariana Trench territory).

But here’s the good news for Manchin, according to Morning Consult. Manchin’s 42–48 numbers are actually an improvement over the last time they polled this. And that improvement has been “driven largely by Republican voters.” That echoes the PRRI poll, which breaks down that 12 percent favorable rating by party. Manchin is lowest among Democrats (7 percent), with independents in the middle (13 percent), and Republicans viewing him most favorably (18 percent).

So a surge of disaffected Democrats is going to back this guy? I don’t buy it. In fact, if we agree that somewhere around 55 percent of Republicans are MAGA and 45 percent are not, which seems about fair based on polls, that tells me that there are, at least potentially, more—far more—disaffected Republicans who might pull for Manchin. If he runs, I suspect his polls will tell him this, and he’ll go hunting where the ducks are, as Barry Goldwater put it.

Three: his unapologetic pro–fossil fuel position. Again, it will be up to the Democrats to publicize this properly if he runs. But if they do, he will perform very poorly among voters who want the United States to move away from fossil fuels—and again, that is a category that includes independents and even some Republicans.

So it’s possible the conventional wisdom is way off here. The PRRI poll data seem to support my case. In the Biden-Trump head-to-head matchup, Biden leads 48–46. When they throw in Manchin and Cornel West, Manchin garners 10 percent and West 5, but Biden still leads Trump, 41–38. If Manchin were stealing all his votes from Biden, wouldn’t Trump have been ahead in the four-way?

Manchin is a Democrat in name. But his high-profile positions are essentially Republican ones. Or at least enough of them are that an effective Democratic spin operation can convince Democratic and a majority of independent voters that Manchin just isn’t a real option for them. It would be a delightful thing if we woke up next November 6 to see that Manchin and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. cost Trump, not Biden, the White House. It would certainly be the outcome they all deserve.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

It Just Got Worse—Again—for Donald Trump

A judge has preliminarily found coup-plotter John Eastman culpable of trying to overturn the 2020 election results. Will he be the next MAGA minion to flip?

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Whenever I look at the latest polls and start to freak out about Donald Trump winning the presidency again, I calm myself by remembering that the guy is very likely going to be an at-least-once convicted felon by next November. While that won’t bother his fans, I still think it will bother enough swing voters that he will lose, and maybe spectacularly.

That scenario got a little more likely Thursday when the California judge overseeing a misconduct trial against Trump attorney and coup-plotter John Eastman made a “preliminary finding” of culpability on Eastman’s part for his attempts to halt the certification of the 2020 election results.

What’s the upshot? No, Eastman isn’t guilty of anything just yet. But he is now closer to being disbarred, and that could make it more likely that he flips. MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Vance wrote on X: “If John Eastman loses his license in the bar proceeding, it incentiv[iz]es him (or would incentivize a rationale person) to plead & cooperate in the criminal case to avoid prison (since he’s already lost his license).”

Eastman is one of the 19 defendants in the Fulton County, Georgia, RICO case against Trump and others for conspiring to steal the election. Four named defendants in that case have already pleaded out and agreed to provide testimony against other defendants: lawyers Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Kenneth Chesebro and bail bondsman Scott Hall.

And don’t forget former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who got an immunity deal from special counsel Jack Smith in Smith’s January 6–related case against Trump. It was revealed just last week that Meadows has testified under oath in that case three times since agreeing to the deal. It was this news that led Chris Christie to go on Morning Joe and crow: “This is deadly. It’s done. [Trump]’s going to be convicted. It’s over.”

On top of all this, of course, was the main Trump family drama of the week, the testimony by his sons in the New York attorney general’s case against the Trump Organization. Don Jr. in his testimony tried to pin any misstatements about Trump family property values on Mazars, the accounting firm the Trumps used; Eric basically denied that he worked on financial statements. Ivanka Trump is set to testify next week, after a judge late Thursday denied her motion that requiring her to testify during a school week would place an “undue hardship” on her (these people are so shameless). The case could cost the family $250 million.

But the real cases are likely to cost Donald Trump a lot more: the White House. His future. His freedom.

I’m telling you, this is all going to catch up with Trump at the worst (or, depending on your point of view, the best) possible time. Yes, Judge Aileen Cannon down in Florida did Trump a favor this week by suggesting she might postpone next May’s trial date in the Trump case she’s hearing, the one about the classified documents. She might move it to after the election.

A bummer, and she’s a hack, as she’s already proven to us. But fine. The other cases will proceed. And high-profile people who had direct contact with Trump have flipped and will testify against him. Christie, whatever else we think of him, is a former federal prosecutor, so when he says what he said about Meadows, he’s speaking from experience.

We’re entering what’s going to be a maddening and horrifying time. In all likelihood, none of these other Republican candidates is going to make a charge at Trump. They’re just too afraid of him. Nikki Haley criticized him obliquely a few days ago, but no one (save Christie) is going to tell the truth about him because they know what will happen to them: They’ll sink like stones. So they’re in an impossible position—of their own making, by the way, because every one of them cheered Trump’s rise—whereby if they don’t go after the front-runner, he’ll be untouched and stay 25 points ahead of the field, and if they do, it will hurt them, and Trump’s lead will likely only grow.

So we’re in for 10 weeks—until the January 15 Iowa caucuses—of poll after poll showing Trump ahead and probably gaining. No piece of bad news will matter. He’ll roll in Iowa. Next will come New Hampshire. No date has yet been set for that primary, but it’s expected to be sometime in January. In New Hampshire, Trump is if anything further ahead than he is in Iowa. Then there’s not another GOP primary until South Carolina on February 24 (there will be Nevada and Virgin Islands caucuses on February 8). In other words, if Trump wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, the race is basically over, and there will be a full month of headlines calling Trump victorious and unstoppable.

Actually—not all headlines. In fact, on the very day, January 16, that we’ll wake up to headlines blaring, “Trump Sails to Victory in Iowa,” we will also be greeted by this headline: “E. Jean Carroll Damages Trial Against Trump Starts Today.” Remember that New York Judge Lewis Kaplan has already said that Trump raped Carroll in the normally understood sense of the term. So readers, and voters, are going to be reminded of that. Then the January 6 trial, the one in which Meadows flipped, starts the day before Super Tuesday. And so on.

Trump is a cornered animal. As the walls close in, he is going to go insane. Nothing in his pampered life has prepared him for the reckoning that’s coming his way. He’s gotten out of everything, from the Vietnam draft to all the bankruptcies, to the impeachments, when he obviously committed high crimes and misdemeanors. His skating days are over.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

New House Speaker: Soft-Spoken. Mild-Mannered. Raging Theocrat.

Mike Johnson is an extremist in every way that matters.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Speaker Mike Johnson on Thursday

In one way, you have to be impressed by the Republicans. They keep going further and further right, completely undeterred. They keep somehow finding these people. And they keep elevating them. And now, MAGA Mike Johnson—a hard-core theocrat who is, in terms of his obviously deeply held philosophical beliefs, to Jim Jordan’s right, and indeed perhaps well to Jim Jordan’s right—is two heartbeats away from the presidency, after having been elected House speaker.

No one except Capitol Hill reporters and people who are such serious politics junkies that they need help had heard of Johnson until this week. I sure hadn’t. There are 221 Republicans in the House of Representatives right now. I’m guessing I could name 80 of them. That leaves around 140 of them who are totally unknown to me, and it’s my job to follow this stuff. Clearly, a larger number than that is completely unknown to America beyond their own districts.

In fact, I’m not sure even Hill reporters knew much about Johnson before this week. Consider how Punchbowl News—a Beltway insider operation if ever there was one—described Johnson to its subscription-only readers Wednesday morning:

In case you haven’t Googled him yet, Johnson is a 51-year-old, fourth-term member of the House. He’s the House Republican Conference vice chair. He’s got a pair of degrees from Louisiana State University and has seats on the Judiciary and Armed Services committees. His district, which hugs the western part of the state, is as red as they come. It’s also home to some big military facilities, including Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Johnson.

Johnson could be the first former chair of the Republican Study Committee to become speaker.

The Louisiana Republican is the son of a Shreveport firefighter badly injured and disabled on the job. The now congressman worked as a college professor, conservative talk radio host and columnist. But it was his roles on behalf of several religious groups—as an attorney and spokesperson—that launched his political career. Johnson is married with four children. If he’s elected, Johnson will enter the speakership as a man with exceedingly modest means. Johnson has at least $280,000 in debt and no disclosed assets.

All of that could have been lifted from the guy’s Wikipedia page.

And it tells us nothing useful about who he actually is, politically. It makes him sound pretty bland and anodyne. Someone like Johnson benefits from this lack of knowledge and curiosity about the backbenchers. If you’re not out there saying outrageous things on a weekly basis like Lauren Boebert or Matt Gaetz, there’s some kind of assumption that you must be a normie.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost none of them are normies. Here’s a thought experiment. I’m just going to choose three GOP backbenchers at random by going to and clicking around. And we’ll learn together about them.

  1. Sam Graves, Missouri 6th district. Never heard of him. A quick Google reveals that he tweeted: “I stand with President Trump. Every legal vote must be counted in complete transparency.” And he, like Johnson, voted against seating Joe Biden. Lifetime CPAC vote rating: 83 percent.
  2. Russ Fulcher, Idaho 1st district. Never heard of him either. He also voted against seating Biden. He was a Ted Cruz delegate to the 2016 GOP convention. Lifetime CPAC rating: 94 percent.
  3. William Timmons, South Carolina, 4th district. Also never heard of him. Another election denier. He, like Fulcher, was one of 126 Republicans to sign an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought in Texas to stop the counting of votes in Pennsylvania. Lifetime CPAC rating: 92 percent.

I expect I could go on and on. The point I’m making here is that this is who the anonymous members of the House GOP conference are. They may toil in relative anonymity, but that doesn’t mean they’re very different from Marjorie Taylor Greene. They’re mostly like her, just with less of a talent for getting attention.

This circles us back to Johnson. Over these last two days, we have been learning things, and they paint an unnerving picture. Just watch the short clip in this tweet and follow the logic of these words: “You remember in the late ’60s we invented things, like no-fault divorce laws. We invented the sexual revolution. We invented radical feminism. We invented legalized abortion in 1973, where the state, the government, sanctions the killing of the unborn. I mean, we know that we’re living in a completely amoral society. And so people say, ‘How can a young person go into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates?’ Because we’ve taught a whole generation, a couple generations now of Americans, that there is no right and wrong.”

He also blamed abortion for the shortfall in the Social Security Trust Fund. Again, follow the logic: “Roe v. Wade gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America. You think about the implications of that on the economy; we’re all struggling here to cover the bases of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and all the rest. If we had all those able-bodied workers in the economy, we wouldn’t be going upside down and toppling over like this.”

Johnson is, interestingly, one of just three American politicians to sit on the advisory board of a British organization called the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, or ARC, which claims to be striking blows in support of “our moral, cultural, economic and spiritual foundations to imagine a future where empowered citizens take responsibility and work together to bring flourishing and prosperity to their homes, communities, and beyond.”* The other U.S. pols on the board are far-right Utah Senator Mike Lee and Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw. As luck would have it, ARC is hosting a huge event next week at the O2 arena, sort of London’s equivalent of Madison Square Garden, starring, wait for it, Jordan Peterson. ARC was co-founded by Baroness Philippa Stroud, the former CEO of the Legatum Institute, which was the leading pro-Brexit think tank in Britain.

It tells me something about Johnson that, of all the hard-right politicians in the United States from which ARC had to choose, it selected Johnson (along with Lee and Crenshaw) as one who best represents its values. What it suggests is that Johnson, though unknown to you and me, has developed a profile over the years in right-wing circles worldwide that share his view that we inhabit “a completely amoral society.”

And this is what gave birth to the headline on this column. Jim Jordan is a hard-right warrior, a front-line infantryman eager to storm the Omaha Beach of the culture wars. Nothing about him screams theocrat. Johnson, however, is exactly that. He may not be speaker long enough to try to impose his eighteenth-century views on America in any meaningful way, but let’s make no mistake about who he is and how he—and so many other rank-and-file Republican members of the House—can carry around hard-right and anti-democratic views and never, ever be scrutinized for them.

* This article originally misstated the number of American politicians on the ARC advisory board.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Mr. President, Don’t Let Netanyahu Drag Us Into World War III

Biden’s Oval Office speech tried to connect Israel and Ukraine, but there are very important differences between the two countries’ predicaments.

Biden addressed the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Biden addressed the nation on the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the Oval Office on Thursday night.

Joe Biden gave an excellent and statesmanlike speech Thursday night. He laid out the big picture well, tying America’s fate to the world’s. He spoke sympathetically toward the Israelis who have suffered in the wake of Hamas’s butchery, as any American president would. But he also recognized the humanity of the Palestinian people, which not any American president would necessarily do. The best parts were the words aimed at Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans generally: “We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens. We must without equivocation denounce antisemitism. We must also without equivocation denounce Islamophobia. And to all you hurting, those of you who are hurting, I want you to know I see you. You belong. And I want to say this to you: You’re all America. You’re all America.”

And yet, I’m a little bothered by one thing. Biden spoke repeatedly, as he has in recent days, of the defense of Israel and Ukraine as if they were the same thing. In one sense, for the moment, they are. Ukraine was the victim of an attack; Israel was the victim of an attack. The attackers in both cases hold values that democracies oppose and represent the forces of reaction.

However, there are some important differences. Ukraine did little to provoke Russia. Vladimir Putin’s puppet was toppled in a revolution because he stood athwart the will of the large majority of the people to establish closer ties with the West. That did not provide Putin with a legitimate reason to start meddling in Ukraine, but it did provide his pretext. More broadly, he insists the whole country is a fiction in the first place, and he’s been invading Ukraine in one way or another for nearly a decade. Israel, on the other hand, has been running a brutal occupation for 56 years and a blockade of Gaza for 16 years. No, I am of course not saying that this history means that Israel in any way “deserved” what happened on October 7. I am saying simply what I’m saying—that the background circumstances of the two conflicts are vastly different. 

Those background circumstances make the goals in each case very different. In Ukraine, the goal is simple and clear, if quite difficult to achieve: repel the authoritarian invader and help Ukraine maintain its independence with as much of its recognized land as possible. In Israel, the goal is … what? This is what people have been debating fiercely over recent days. Decapitate Hamas? OK. But that’s a really complicated thing to do, given the reality on the ground (all those tunnels). It’s a lot more complicated than pushing an invader back to the status quo borders.

And if Israel does decapitate Hamas, what comes next? It’s not like the people who replace Hamas are going to be peace-seeking small-d democrats who accept the existence of Israel. Is Israel to reoccupy Gaza? Nearly everyone agrees that that would be an utter disaster. But how does it not come to that, or something like that, if this war drags on and Israeli soldiers are on the ground in Gaza for some period of time?

This leads to a third difference between the two situations, which revolves around the risk involved for the United States. The risk for the United States in arming Ukraine is comparatively low. Yes, Putin is dangerous and not entirely predictable; if someday he’s really cornered, he could deploy a tactical nuke. But he’s probably hesitant to directly provoke the U.S. into confrontation. To do that, he’d have to invade a Baltic state—not impossible, but I suspect not likely. With a military as exposed as his has been, it seems doubtful that he wants war with the most sophisticated army in the world.

The war in Israel, though, could spread. That isn’t hard to imagine at all. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and dedicated to Israel’s destruction. If there’s a long ground war in Gaza, how long is Hezbollah just going to sit there and watch? And if Hezbollah gets involved, that means Iran gets more directly involved. A U.S. Navy warship on Thursday intercepted three missiles from Yemen that appeared headed for Israel. If Israel is under attack from two (or three) sides and needs help, there is probably only one country in the world that will rise immediately to its defense. We sent those carriers over there for a reason.

Finally, there’s one more difference in the two cases: the leaders involved.

In Ukraine, we have a democrat who has risen to the historical occasion. If Ukraine somehow wins this war, there will be statues someday to Volodymyr Zelenskiy not just in Ukraine but across the world (unless the world is conquered by its darker forces, which is not alas impossible), emblazoned with his imperishable comment from the early days of the invasion: “I don’t need a ride. I need ammunition.”

In Israel … well, you know. We have a corrupt, extremist double-dealer who has spent the year trying to destroy one of the pillars of Israeli democracy so he can stay out of jail. If Benjamin Netanyahu is capable of that, then he’s capable of taking actions here that draw the U.S. deeper and deeper into this conflict, especially given his rising and rampant unpopularity in Israel right now.

It’s understandable why Biden, publicly and for now, pairs the two situations. But I hope that privately he and his top foreign policy officials are pushing Israel hard to keep this as brief and humane as possible and when it’s done start talking again about a peace process. Biden has been drawing on his decades of foreign policy experience. Alas, he’s going to have plenty more opportunities to do so.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Of Course We Can Condemn Israel—and Hamas. It’s Not Complicated.

Hamas’s attacks last weekend were obviously immoral. So is the Israeli occupation.

Palestinians evacuate following an Israeli airstrike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images
Palestinians evacuate following an Israeli airstrike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City on October 9.

The majority, probably even the vast majority, of what we call the left has denounced Hamas’s attacks on Israel and has no trouble holding in its collective head two ideas at the same time: that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a complete moral horror, and that what Hamas did last weekend is its own moral horror and utterly without justification. But what to make of the defenses and even celebrations of Hamas’s attacks by a few leftists?

This isn’t hard or complicated. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed it perfectly in her criticism of the Times Square rally last weekend where there was so much Hamas cheerleading: “The bigotry and callousness expressed in Times Square on Sunday were unacceptable and harmful in this devastating moment. It also did not speak for the thousands of New Yorkers who are capable of rejecting both Hamas’s horrifying attacks against innocent civilians as well as the grave injustices and violence Palestinians face under occupation.”

The people refusing to hold these two ideas in their heads—a number of Democratic Socialists of America leaders and members, some prominent academics, a couple left-wing Israeli groups, the Chicago Black Lives Matter chapter, and assorted campus leftists—are smart enough to do so. So why don’t they?

There are a lot of stated justifications—that the occupation is uniquely evil, that the Palestinians are so dispossessed that they are justified in meeting violence with violence, and so on. But I submit that behind the justifications sits one basic reason. These are people who reject universalism—the conviction that certain ideas and principles have a universal value that transcends nations, borders, bloodlines.

I understand where the position comes from historically. But it is insupportable both philosophically and practically, and the rejection of universalist principles will result—I would go so far as to say will always, unfailingly result—in movements that might triumph against their oppressor in the short term but in the long term become regimes that are reactionary, sanguinary, and enemies of progressive values. Is that really the side progressive people want to be on?

Hamas, in fact, is already all three of those things. Of course the main oppressor of the people of Gaza is Israel. But Hamas administers the area, and its record is grim. Elections have been promised and canceled (this is true of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as well). Corruption is staggering. And as for free speech and women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, things are as retrograde as you’d expect. Start with this 2021 decision by a Hamas court holding that women cannot travel without a male guardian, then move to this damning Amnesty International report from last year.

People in the West who don’t understand all this, or who do understand it and choose to excuse it, are dishonoring the very principles that all progressive people are duty bound to defend. At best they’re being naïve. As Jamie Raskin put it to me Wednesday evening, referring to the Times Square rally: “Hamas would have gladly slaughtered everyone at that rally just like they slaughtered all of the progressive young people at the music concert in Israel.”

Short version of a long history: Originally it was the left, the idea of which was really born with the French Revolution, that promoted universalism. The argument that rights were universal served the left’s purposes well as long as conflicts were intranational (the French Revolution) or within a mutually understood or shared set of religious and civic traditions (the American Revolution).

But in the twentieth century, conflicts became international and inter-traditional. They gained a colonialist and, make no mistake, deeply racist overlay. Arguments arose from the Western left (Jean-Paul Sartre, notably) and from a new group of intellectuals from the developing world that universalism was a Western fiction, a bourgeois ruse; that we could not expect people who were not steeped in Western traditions, especially when living under a brutal and unyielding occupation (by an “enlightened” Western power, no less), to adhere to these values. The real-life Ho Chi Minh and the fictionalized Ali La Pointe became heroes to this left. The Palestinian resistance took shape during that same period, the mid-1960s, so the trip from there to the kinds of defenses of Hamas we’re seeing now is a fairly short one.

The Israeli occupation, particularly the premeditated and carefully thought-through cruelty of its Gaza manifestation, is without question the first-order offense here. Among the things it is an offense to, I would argue, is universalism. When Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant refers to Gaza Palestinians—all Gaza Palestinians, including children, including cancer patients who need to go to the hospital—as “human animals,” he is being as anti-universalist as a person can be. What Israel is apparently gearing up to do right now—on Thursday, it ominously warned Gazans in the north to relocate, and according to Haaretz, the number of Palestinian dead is already higher than the number of Israelis killed last weekend—is going to be hideous. And it’s worth remembering that lots of people in this country who are far more prominent than some DSA members are cheering on this violence.

Still, none of that permits us to say, under any circumstances, that the murder of babies and children is excusable. Never.

A line has crept into the discourse in the past week that violence “is never acceptable.” In truth, that just isn’t the case. The world often accepts and venerates violence. And sometimes it’s necessary. I’m quite glad that the Union Army chose violence after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, and that the world’s democracies decided that violence was the way to answer Hitler and Tojo.

There are different forms of violence. Violence against slaveholders or fascist dictators is one thing. Violence against babies is quite another. And sure, to decide which form of violence is acceptable and which is not constitutes sliding along the proverbial slippery slope. But it is exactly these distinctions that intellectuals and engaged activists are supposed to make, and if we can’t make them, we enter a deep moral abyss.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Six Reasons Why Liberals Should Salivate at a Speaker Jordan

The Republicans may finally prove true an old leftist aphorism.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Representative Jim Jordan last month

You’re familiar with the old leftist phrase “The worse, the better.” It means the worse things get, the better for our side. It’s often attributed to Lenin, but it looks like it was actually uttered by Georgi Plekhanov, a Marxist theoretician who opposed Lenin but had the good fortune to die of tuberculosis before Comrade Ulyanov could have him carted off to Siberia and shot. The worse the material conditions of the working class under the czar, he argued, the more likely it is they’ll embrace revolution.

When I was younger, I tried to believe that this was true. But reality, I found, usually subscribed to the dictum “The worse, the worse.” That is, every bad thing that happened in politics, every victory of the right, usually just led to more victories. There was no moment when the working class woke up and saw what a ruse it all was. When the economic meltdown happened in 2008, some people on the broad left thought maybe, finally, here was the moment when the people would rise up and demand a new economic paradigm driven by more government intervention. But instead of getting that, we got the Tea Party.

The left did rebound over the next decade, but that was because of long, hard work by activists in movements like the Fight for 15 and by thinkers like the new generation of economists who’ve done so much to remake that profession. It had nothing to do with Plekhanov.

However: We who analyze politics for a living must be careful not to rely too much on past patterns; we risk being generals fighting the last war. And it’s with that in mind that I think the possibility of Jim Jordan becoming speaker of the House could finally prove old Plekhanov right.

Jordan would be a disaster as speaker. He’d be a disaster for the country, which is bad, but actually I don’t think he could really do that much damage, with Democrats holding the Senate and a Democrat in the White House. No—the real disaster would be for the Republican Party. So while I’m not—let me be clear—exactly cheering on this outcome, I certainly see some big, bright silver linings.

Why? Let us count the ways. First, speakers traditionally work their way up, slowly building relationships, doing favors, raising money. Jordan has surely done some of that, but it’s not his real calling card. His real calling card is that he’s a right-wing media star who has made himself memorable and notable with his obnoxious sneer, his wild rhetoric and charges, his sportscoat-less swagger at committee hearings, and the like. I’m obviously not a GOP House caucus insider, but I’d be shocked if he’s bothered to build relationships beyond those that have been useful to him.

Second, he has zero, and I mean zero, relationships with Democrats. Kevin McCarthy didn’t have many either, but that just proves my point, because look what happened to him: If he’d bothered to build some relationships across the aisle, a handful of Democrats would have voted “present” this week, and he’d still be speaker. The House minority is pretty powerless, but it isn’t completely powerless. There are times when the speaker has to cut a deal with the minority leader. Do you see Jim Jordan doing that?

Third, does he have any kind of relationship with Mitch McConnell? Jordan said this week it’s “fine” and “good.” Um … sure. McConnell has done his share to burn down the Senate, Lord knows, but compared to people like Jordan, he’s Arthur Vandenberg. Cynical and slippery though he is, McConnell at least believes in a kind of old-school decorum that Jordan has utterly rejected. They’re stylistically polar opposites. And then there’s Ukraine aid, which McConnell backs and Jordan staunchly opposes.

Fourth, he’s going to make promises about cutting spending that he won’t be able to keep. This in no small part is what brought down the last three Republican speakers—they talked a big game about shrinking government, but they didn’t deliver because they were fundamentally lying. When Republicans say, “We’re going to cut government,” they mean domestic discretionary spending, which is less than 15 percent of the budget. Drastic cuts to those programs are unpopular, so there just isn’t that much to cut. Speaker Jordan will bump up against this reality just as Speakers Boehner, Ryan, and McCarthy did.

Fifth, what did Jordan know about January 6? Liz Cheney just said that Jordan “knew more” about Trump’s January 6 plans “than any other” member of Congress. “Jim Jordan was involved, was part of the conspiracy in which Donald Trump was engaged as he attempted to overturn the election,” she said in a speech in Minnesota. If he becomes speaker and Democrats are doing their job, they’ll say “Jim Jordan” and “January 6” with the frequency that Rudy Giuliani used to say “9/11.” The only coup against the United States ever led by one of its major political parties will hang like stink on the GOP.

Sixth … ah, the sixth one! This is the best. Back in June, the Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit against Ohio State University, brought by former athletes in the wrestling program who accused a university doctor of serial sexual abuse, could move forward. The plaintiffs are pressing ahead to depose everyone who might have knowledge of the situation. That would include former assistant coach Jim Jordan.

He of course denies knowledge of any abuse. Well, a lawsuit in which he is compelled to answer questions under oath might finally settle things. If he’s telling the truth, he’s telling the truth. If he’s not … he coached there so many years ago that the statute of limitations probably prevents him from being criminally charged. But if—if—it is revealed that he knew something and said nothing, is that the man the Republicans really want leading them?

That’s a bit speculative, but the first five reasons are not. Jordan has shown none of the skills that being a good speaker normally requires. Of course, today’s GOP is not a normal political party. He will “succeed” in the sense that he will adequately represent all the extreme and unhinged things the party stands for. But eventually, a speaker confronts reality in the form of process: the need to pass spending bills and cut deals with the Senate and the White House. Everything about Jordan’s career suggests that he will fail operatically at this.

The question, to return to Tovarich Plekhanov’s formulation, is whether those crucial slivers of the voting public will recognize it and turn on the GOP. It’s hard to say. But let’s put it this way. He’s been a lightning rod his entire career. The one idea with which he is most closely associated, impeachment of Joe Biden, is broadly unpopular—even 60 percent of independents oppose it. His scowling visage is the true face of the GOP. Let America see it.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.

Impeachment Hearing Proves Even Dumb Fascists Can Be Dangerous

The House Republican effort to make a case against Joe Biden is mostly blundering—but their collective face-plant can still cause some significant damage.

House Oversight Chair James Comer uses a gavel
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Chairman of the House Oversight Committee James Comer presides over an impeachment inquiry on September 28, in Washington, D.C.

A common refrain on the broad left has gone something like: “Well, Donald Trump may be a fascist, but at least we can take solace in the fact that he’s stupid, because imagine the damage he could do if he were smart.” And that is true to some extent; one big reason we worry so much about the prospect of a second Trump presidency is that he now knows things that eluded him the first time he took office, potentially making him much more dangerous.

On the other hand, let’s not forget: Trump taught us from 2017 to 2021 that fascist and stupid can be plenty bad. And this week, House Republicans are drilling the same lesson into our weary heads, maybe even more emphatically than Trump did. Day one of their impeachment hearing was … well, words nearly fail me. One was repulsed by the obvious and blatant lies, yet simultaneously amazed at just how dumb these people seem to be.

The sorry display actually kicked off the day before the formal hearing, when Representative Jason Smith of Missouri, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, released 700 pages of documents proving—and I’m summarizing here—blah blah blah. He spoke gravely of “evidence of corruption and misconduct,” referring at one point to a June 2017 WhatsApp message that Hunter Biden sent to a business associate. Here commenced a hilarious exchange between Smith and an NBC News reporter, in which the reporter reminded Smith that in June 2017, Joe Biden was neither the president nor even the vice president but rather what is known as “a private citizen.” Smith finally asked the reporter, “What source are you with?” When the reporter said NBC, Smith said, “So apparently you’ll never believe us.”

That’s the playbook. When the facts fall apart, cry Fake News and Deep State.

Then came the hearing itself. CNN delivered a blistering fact-check of the antics, listing eight instances where Republicans omitted crucial context or simply lied through their teeth:

1. Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said the Bidens had “raked in over $20 million between 2014 and 2019.”

Truth: While $20 million is roughly accurate, much of that money went to Hunter Biden’s business associates. And more importantly, they offered zero proof that any money went to Joe Biden.

2. Jim Jordan claimed that Hunter Biden admitted he was not qualified to sit on the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma.

Truth: Hunter Biden acknowledged that he probably wouldn’t have been asked to be on the board if he weren’t Joe Biden’s son, but he has defended his qualifications in detail. A subtle but crucial twisting of his words.

3. Jordan argued—this has been a GOP talking point for a while—that the Justice Department blocked investigators from asking about Joe Biden during a 2020 investigation into Hunter’s dealings.

Truth: A deputy did say to then–U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss that there was no justification for adding Joe Biden’s name to a warrant, but this is plausibly just how the law works: If prosecutors believed there were no grounds to include the elder Biden’s name, doing so would be inappropriate and even illegal. Also, people like Jordan speak murkily of “the Justice Department” in sinister terms to suggest conspiracy. It’s worth remembering that at the time in question, Trump was president and Justice was led by Bill Barr (then still in Trump’s pocket).

Actually, I’ll stop there. You can click on the link above to see them all, but you get the idea. In addition, you should watch committee member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s evisceration of Republican committee member Byron Donalds’s photoshopped text message in her appearance on Chris Hayes’s show Thursday night. Donalds made a text message—which, by the way, was not about business dealings but about Hunter’s alimony problems—look like a real iPhone text, which was totally made up. “And this is supposed to be the Republican case for impeachment?” AOC told Hayes. “At this point we should be investigating the investigation.”

All of this comes in addition to the other, more widely covered embarrassments at Thursday’s hearing, notably Jonathan Turley, the GOP’s star lawyer, saying, “I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of an impeachment.”

Oh, and remember this: Comer’s star witness, a man named Gal Luft, is on the lam. Luft was supposed to deliver various goods on “the Biden crime family,” and back in June, Comer and Jordan and the New York Post were very excited about him. But in July, the Southern District of New York indicted him on eight charges that involved Luft acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China, trafficking arms, brokering the sale of Iranian oil to China, and more. He was in Cyprus, free on bail, and he jumped it. The star witness is literally a fugitive from the law.

These people are a joke. And yet—don’t underestimate the danger they can do. On balance, sure, smart fascists are more dangerous. Hitler was smart in the early 1930s as he gained power (he saved his stupid moves—declaring war on the United States for no reason; thinking he could win a two-front war—for later). He knew exactly what laws he was breaking, and how, and why.

Today’s Republicans aren’t that cunning. This idiot Ways and Means chairman—who, by the way, hates puppies; read this eye-popper—doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Comer has shown time and again that he’s a dope. Jordan, for all his seething self-righteousness, knows nothing about the Constitution (by the way, I recently referred to him as a lawyer; he did finish law school, but he never passed a bar exam, and that means he’s not actually a lawyer).

But all that doesn’t mean they can’t do damage. A clever trained assassin armed with a Beretta behind enemy lines can do one kind of damage. A blind man with a machete can do another kind. But it’s still damage. Especially when his motivation is to provide cover for a fascist candidate.

This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.